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Chapter Seven

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Allison's house was only a couple of streets over from town centre where the worst of the chaos raged. Frankie wouldn't be able to see anything from the upstairs bedrooms, but there was a skylight in the loft that she hoped would give her a better view.

The loft hatch was located above the upstairs landing, between Allison's bedroom and her parents'. Frankie tugged on the pull-down ladder and it descended with a flurry of dust.  

Her friends had followed her upstairs and were crowded behind her. Allison hadn't said a word; she leaned against Melly with a blank look in her eyes. Melly stroked Allison's arm, a repetitive soothing rhythm. 

Vanessa eyed the ladder, her face unreadable. Frankie had expected Vanessa to challenge her on assuming a leadership role, but so far the other girl had stayed quiet. Maybe, in spite of her ice-queen façade, she was in as much need for someone to take charge as the others.

Frankie climbed the ladder into the loft. It was stuffy up there, the heat from the house having risen and invaded every dusty corner. Frankie clambered over a stack of cardboard boxes to reach the skylight. It was cloaked in cobwebs; she peeled them back away, scrubbing at the glass with her sleeve. She stood on tiptoes to peer out. From here she could just about see over the roofs of the houses around her, and into town centre. The jeweller's, where they'd first tried to hide, was almost directly ahead.

Becky's dead face briefly flashed through Frankie's head and she pushed the image away. She couldn't deal with it right now.

Town centre looked like a warzone. The streets were clogged with crumpled bodies, blood forming wide pools on roads and pavements, or splashed across shop-fronts and painted like grim artwork on the exteriors of cars.  

But . . . Frankie frowned. She leaned closer until her forehead touched the windowpane. When she'd fled from the bus, the townspeople had panicked, scattering in a wild frenzy. Nobody was panicking now. They didn't seem to be doing anything. They just stood there in small clusters, mannequin-still except for the occasional coughing that racked them. 

They were all sick, Frankie realised. But that didn't make sense. Earlier the sick people had been frenzied. They'd attacked like wild animals. What had happened to that terrible rage?  

A young man careened around the off-licence on the corner, skidding to a halt a few shops over from the jeweller's. A group of sick people swung their heads in his direction.  

A chill raised the hairs on Frankie's arms. "Run," she whispered. This couldn't just be a sickness, this was unnatural.  

The young man tried to run but he wasn't fast enough. The sick closed in around him, blocking him in.

Frankie scrunched up her face. "This can't be happening," she whispered.

But it was exactly what had happened on the bus. Sick people had surrounded it, attacked it, tried to force their way inside. And when she'd fled into town centre she'd seen further attacks. Whatever this sickness was, it did more than give people a sore throat and a fever.

The young man's mouth stretched open in a scream as his attackers dragged him to the ground. They loomed over him, a pack of hyenas closing in on a kill. Bright blood spilled from their lips, pouring on the man's face. He screamed and writhed beneath them.

Frankie turned away, sickened. Maybe it was better that Vanessa and Allison's parents had died quietly in their own homes without having to face that kind of madness.  

Except they might not have gone quietly.  

Frankie didn't know anything about this sickness - what it did, how it worked. But what she'd seen of it so far looked painful.

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